The 2004 SuperFerry 14 bombing on February 27, 2004, was a terrorist attack that resulted in the sinking of the ferry SuperFerry 14 and the deaths of 116 people in the Philippines’ deadliest terrorist attack and the world’s deadliest terrorist attack at sea. Six children less than five years old, and nine children between six and 16 years of age were among the dead or missing, including six students on a championship team sent by schools in northern Mindanao to compete in a journalism contest.
On the night of February 27, the 10,192-ton ferry sailed out of Manila for Cagayan de Oro City via Bacolod City and Iloilo City with 899 recorded passengers and crew aboard. A television set containing a 3.6-kilogram (8-pound) TNT bomb had been placed on board in the lower, more crowded decks.
An hour after its 11 p.m. sailing, just off either El Fraile or Corregidor Island an explosion tore through the vessel, starting a fire that engulfed the ship and caused the confirmed deaths of 63 people while another 53 were recorded as missing and presumed dead. As the fire spread across the vessel most of the survivors jumped into the sea or boarded rescue boats and, by February 29, officials had accounted for 565 of the 744 recorded passengers and all but two of the 155 crew members.
In the days following the blast, the recovery of the dead and missing, calculated at around 180 on February 29, would be slow. Officials stated the missing may have been trapped inside the blazing ferry, have drowned in Manila Bay and that others may have been picked up by fishing boats. The recovery of bodies would take several months, with only four bodies recovered by Coast Guard divers from the half-submerged ferry in the first week alone, despite it having been towed to shallower waters near Mariveles town, west of Manila. At least another 12 bodies, some displaying blast injuries, were recovered by divers in the days up until the 7th. Eventually, 63 bodies would be recovered while another 53 would remain missing, presumed dead.
Despite claims from various terrorist groups, the blast was initially thought to have been an accident, caused by a gas explosion, and sabotage was ruled out initially.
However, stated Philippine media reports, at the marine board of inquiry hearing in late March 2004, a safety supervisor with the ship’s owner, WG&A, testified that about 150 survivors told him an explosion took place in the tourist section around the general area of bunk 51. The Captain of the ferry, Ceferino Manzo, testified in the same hearing that the entire tourist section was engulfed in “thick black smoke that smelled like gunpowder.” After divers righted the ferry, five months after it sank, they found evidence of a bomb blast. A man named Redondo Cain Dellosa, a Rajah Sulaiman Movement member, confessed to planting a bomb, triggered by a timing device, on board for the Abu Sayyaf group. He held a ticket on the ferry for bunk 51B, where the bomb was placed, and disembarked before the ship’s departure.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced on October 11, 2004, that investigators had concluded that the explosion had been caused by a bomb. She said six suspects had been arrested in connection with the bombing and that the masterminds, Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, were still at large. It was believed that Abu Sayyaf bombed Superferry 14 because the company that owned it, WG&A, did not comply with a letter demanding USD 1 million in protection money.
Arrest and deportation
Ruben Omar Pestano Lavilla, Jr., a listed terrorist of U.S. State Department, and founder of Philippine terror group Rajah Sulaiman Movement, was arrested in Bahrain on July 24, 2008. Anti-Terrorism Council Chairman Eduardo Ermita announced Lavilla, the alleged mastermind of the Superferry 14 bombing, was deported from Bahrain to the Philippines on August 30. Included in the sanctioned list of the United Nations Security Council, the RSM leader is also implicated in the February 14, 2005 bombings at Glorietta, and has pending murder case before the Makati City Regional Trial Court for the bombings.